VICTORIA - British Columbia has announced it will pay for the so-called abortion pill starting Jan. 15, becoming the sixth province to provide free access to the drug.
Mifegymiso, also known at RU-486, can be used to terminate a pregnancy in the first nine weeks, the government said in a news release Tuesday.
It said the current cost of the drug is $300, and removing the cost will ensure women can access a safe, legal option to end a pregnancy.
Patients wanting a prescription must visit a doctor or nurse practitioner to get an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy is not ectopic, or outside the uterus.
The province said health-care professionals who will prescribe Mifegymiso and pharmacists who will dispense it are encouraged to complete an education program about the drug.
Health Canada approved Mifegymiso in 2015, and it's the brand name for a combination of the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, which are taken separately to prompt an abortion.
New Brunswick was the first province to provide universal access to the pill last July, and Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia have also made it accessible for free.
Darrah Teitel, spokeswoman for the group Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, said coverage of the pill means more equitable access to abortion in rural and remote parts of Canada where surgical options don't exist.
Teitel said that while the abortion pill is available throughout the country, the cost can exceed $400.
"With cost coverage, we also urge the provinces to do a lot of work in terms of spreading awareness, not only to pharmacists but also to health practitioners and to the public at large to let them know that this pill is available," she said.
However, Stephanie Fennelly, spokeswoman for the Edmonton-based Wilberforce Project, which opposes abortion, said the drug shouldn't be promoted in rural areas, where women need better health care in general.
Fennelly called the drug dangerous, noting a Quebec woman died from taking it during a medical study in 2001. She said several women in the United States have also died.
"What we see in Alberta is that this drug is highly promoted to women in rural areas and we see a real health risk there because we're promoting a drug that killed a woman under medical supervision and we're offering it to people who are the furthest from medical supervision," she said.
Women in crisis pregnancies need financial resources and help parenting, Fennelly said.
"A lot of people are selecting abortion not because it's their first choice, but their last resort," Fennelly said. "I think that Canadian women, and B.C. women, could have a full spectrum of options that aren't a health risk."